Looking backward into the future

Looking backward into the future – review of grape literature published in magazines from the 1920’s to the 1980’s

Al Cribari

In the May, 1923, issue of the California Grape Grow Grower, editor Stoll devotes a full page to the ’23 grape crop and its prospects and problems. Among them are a good outlook for the coming harvest, Mr. Stoll’s usual caution to not act before the California Grape Growers’ Exchange has had a chance to post prices (and garner new members!) and of course, those two big bugaboos–transportation and shook (that’s the thin boards and small lumber that was used to make wooden shipping boxes before the development of the cardboard box). Both of the latter were in short supply.

A rather bitter article by “an Oregon apple grower”. Seems as he feels that the car shortage is caused by the rather immoral act of California growers shipping grapes to the east to make “juice”. Of course, he is correct in one respect–pre-prohibition shipments of grapes to the east averaged about 16,000 cars per annum–in 1922 it was about 41,000 cars. And more to the apple growers chagrin the price went from, “seven, ten and fifteen dollars a ton to the startling and unheard of price of $150 and $200 a ton” Who can blame the poor apple grower? A tremendous increase in sales volume and price together is enough to cause epilepsy in any non-grape farmer! No wonder my folks were able to boost their profits year after year. As for being “immoral”, well, part is sour grapes but also the regulation to permit grape juice was certainly a tortured legal decision. The irony is that apples, with sugar to raise the final alcohol and with water to cut the acid, make a very palatable white wine. But then, of course, red wine was the thing that sold.

After some lengthy discussion, the California legislature passed a standard for “California Commercial Grade” juice–aka wine–grapes. This was quite an advanced piece of self-regulation for the industry and was of great help in securing the reputation of California grapes and agricultural products in general. Probably this caused the Oregon apple grower (no doubt a lukewarm prohibitionist) to have apoplexy!

The French champagne business is “passing through a very bad period”, what with both the U.S. and Soviet Union (the latter suffering from “Bolshevik Dementia”) both eliminated from the market and economic distress in most of the rest of what we now call the western world.

Fine little ad by J.C. Millett. They were big suppliers of ours in the old days.

Colonial Grape Products Co. has a prominent ad proclaiming to be “Growers and Shippers of GREEN GRAPES”. It is interesting to see how the use of the language changes even over such a short time as 70 years. Especially since changes have been greatly slowed by TV, radio and massive amounts of printed words.

In perusing these old issues, I have become impressed with the fact that the California grape industry was, even in its most disorganized and early prohibition days, a rather forward-looking and quality-conscious organization. Very unsophisticated, of course, but nonetheless an industry that realized the importance of quality and the reputation of such.

The current wine industry is heir to that. By and large, I think, it has carried along this reputation.

Thus again, in these rather difficult times in the ’90s, we must do all we can to preserve, extend and improve our reputation for quality.

Oh yes, because of an oversight on the computer last month, I did not get the page containing the tribute to Andrea Sbarboro. The latter died in Feb. of ’23 at the age of 83. What makes him so notable was his association with P.C. Rossi, the father of twin brothers Robert and Ed Rossi of Italian Swiss Colony fame. These two, plus Mr. M. J. Fontana, founded and built the vineyards and winery at Asti from scratch with the help of their fellow immigrants. After Mr. Rossi’s death, the company was merged with C.W.A. When the latter decided to liquidate after prohibition, the sons of P.C. Rossi, Ed and Bob, bought the name, winery and other assets together with E. Seghesio and E. Prati. The brand Italian Swiss Colony has all but disappeared but it is still an important part of our heritage. I believe Canandaigua bottles it and the off-shoot of this brand, “Colony” is produced by the Wine Group.

A slim issue of 30 pages, the May 1943 edition is nonetheless packed with interesting stuff reflecting the wartime problems.

ITEM–No raisin type grapes grown in the upper San Joaquin Valley can be crushed for wine, syrup etc. I believe this was later extended to include all those varieties no matter where grown.

ITEM–Wine rationing a possibility; I never knew that this was ever seriously regarded.

ITEM–Monochloroacetic acid is being discussed as a preservative. With absence of new heating, pasteurizing and filtering equipment, many wineries were very hard put to properly remove yeasts and bacteria from their wines and so were looking for the “silver bullet”. Especially so since it was a sellers market and everyone was able to sell more product than they had.

ITEM–Rumors, Rumors and yet more Rumors. The rapid federal takeover of many marketing activities and the ideas put forth to implement these activities plus the well-known penchant of the Roosevelt Administration to send up trial balloons, bred rumors like drosophila.

There was a change for me vis-a-vis World War II; I was being “lionized” as never before. I called the winery at Madrone (Santa Clara Co.) and told them I’d be there on a certain day. An hour later, Mary Cioco, a second cousin and our A/R clerk, as I recall, phoned to ask that I come a few days later so as all of the people would be present to say farewell. I did and they surprised me with a big going away party, complete with a leather writing kit. Little did I know that this would be my last visit to this our winery; it was sold while I was overseas.

Such were typical of the times however. More changes took place over the next few years than at any time since the beginning of prohibition. And sadly, not many of the changes were for the better. The five years between 1941 and 1946 set the industry back at least 10 years.

The May, 1963, edition seems rather newsless, except as usual, the Wise & Otherwise page. Herein was announced by Ernest Gallo that, “At this time, we are not contemplating entering this |Champagne~ field”.

The lead article bemoans the fact that sales of dessert wines have fallen off. It also claims that sound business suggests greater promotional efforts to bring the volume back to at least where it was. Assuming that the writer was only playing up to the big dessert wine producers, it is another indication as to how unexpected was the drop in dessert wines sales. As I’ve said, even I, as an avowed table wine man, could not believe what was happening.

Interesting article–“The Role of Wine in the Treatment of Obesity”. In looking back over editions, it is surprising as to how advanced some of the thinking was in those days.

The 13th Annual Meeting of the ASE was scheduled to be held in Sacramento June 27 thru 29. The ASE and V will meet this Year of Our Lord, 1993, also in Sacramento.

As I look back to ’63, I believe that the industry as a whole, handled the coming changes very well.

Ah me! The infamous Grape Processing Order (1968) had another (two weeks) extension of life. I imagine that without the impassioned pleas of “Sox” Setrakian, there was little support for the order. In addition to which, dessert wine prices were strong and steady.

Guild closed its Guasti premises and is having its 1966 crop crushed at the nearby Gallo winery. This, in effect, marks the beginning of the demise of Southern California as a viticultural district.

Kasser Distillers in Pennsylvania, buys out both Wilen and Alexander Young. We didn’t know it at the time but this also heralded a new era. Dessert wine packaged by eastern bottlers was to become a thing of the past. Of all these bottlers, I suppose only Canandaigua remains and they were never a bottler in the above sense, and they surely are not now.

Dr. Richard Peterson is named B. V. winemaster.

Al Cribari (yep, the very same yours truly) moves to N.Y. My stay there was very enjoyable in many ways but the one thing I surely did miss was the isolation from other vintners. Of course, there were the N.Y. winepeople but it wasn’t the same. If it weren’t for my cousin, Ted, and brother Ken, it would have been lonesome indeed.

Renault Winery in “Egg Harbor, NJ was sold but the buyer was not announced”. As readers may know, this area was the first site of a Cribari winery in the East. Started in 1922 or ’23, our dad made everything he could from the 22 cars of grapes that were left unsold on the siding.

The great growth of “Kosher Wines” was one of the post-war phenomena. I recall that the only previous exciting growth of a category was that of the “light sweet” wines that sprouted about 1950 or so (remember Galloette?). I thought that such wines were probably the wave of the future in North America. I was wrong and they faded rapidly. After the Kosher Wine boom, I believe it was Cold Duck that made the headlines and convinced me that the wine business was becoming like the “rag” business–a different fad every few years.

Just read of Leo Berti’s death. My condolences to his widow and family. He was quite an influence in our industry. He lived as it were, in three eras; the one just after Repeal, when technical knowledge was at a premium, the one right after WWII, when dessert wine dominated the marketing and thinking of the industry. Thus, efficiency (proof gallons per ton) of the winery was of almost supreme importance. Lastly, the switch to table wines.

Apropos of nothing special, I remember one day, when he drove up to our Evergreen Winery in a brand new Nash station wagon. I thought it was one of the more ugly vehicles on the market. But Leo loved it and it had, I believe, the first standard seat belts–which everyone promptly cut off!

’68 was a great year in that it was offering a bright new kind of wine industry–one in which we enologists became, for a while, the lions of the cocktail circuit; wow!

We are well into the “wine boom” as the May, 1973, edition shows by many articles.

One of the best is by editor Hiaring. He had three big wine dinners cure tastings, to attend; the Lawyer Friends of Wine, Society of Medical Friends of Wine and International Order of Military Wine Tasters. Good going, Phil.

But Phil also makes a point. Why does not California, or the U.S., have a vintners club? In Germany, theirs is laid out with one dining room for the public and the other for the trade–separated by the kitchen. As far as I know France, Italy, and Spain all have such a thing and also probably the former communist countries in Eastern Europe. Seems to me to be a natural extension of our tasting rooms.

A good project for the W.I. and/or AAV.

I suppose that we can take it as proof that California wines have reached new international recognition by the fact that Moet-Hennessy decided to plunk $6 million into a winery and vineyards around Napa Co. Or maybe it is just an investment in a safe secure semi-capitalistic ally. Or perhaps just a way of protecting their left flank (market-wise) in case America decides to become more protectionist. Quien sabe? Moet does.

Page-and-a-half article on drip irrigation–relatively new technique, then. With the drought over for at least this year. I wonder how these new systems will last and whether new ones will continue to develop.

I, for one, feel that it is disgraceful that California, which has grown in population some 400% since the last major dam was built, has not done something imaginative to secure more water for the present and future.

Personally, I like the idea of hauling icebergs down to S.F. Bay.

Good report on the panel discussing the wine situation, always until recently, a backroom event. A Mr. Hart, V.P., BofA, expressed the view that pop wines are going to continue to do well as they appeal to those who have been raised on soda-pop. Now do you see why I advocate taking cover when the BofA speaks “ex-cathedral”? However, I do hasten to add that I too felt that pop wines would have a significant and permanent place in America. And, perhaps they have. The last time I looked several years ago, Thunderbird was one of the top 10 items in Pennsylvania and Richards was not far behind. Incidentally, while the cork sniffers and their followers may denigrate these items, I could never understand why they are unfavorably compared to vodka and slivovitz as a beverage, much less Rum&Coca-Cola. Is it now a disgrace to like something not approved by the cognoscenti? Sure, I think that we ought to concentrate on traditional table wines etc., etc. but also we have to try to supply the little old ladies with a beverage for their card games, no?

A Miss Powers from the Ladies Home Journal said, “Women need help in wine selection; they are not so concerned with the art of mystique of wine drinking as they are with wine as a symbol of gracious living” Amen to that.

This was the beginning of the Big Inflation and was so noted by one of the panelists, proving once again that we cannot have both guns and butter–unless we borrow against the future. Which we did. And are.

As for the future, I think that the industry has got to pull together.

That’s what’s got us where we’s at and that what’s goin’ to get us where we’s goin’.

The May, 1983, issue is rather devoid of matters of interest today but the editorial by Phil Hiaring is right on the money. He was writing about the retirement of an M. Le Pechoux from the “Food and Wines From France”–a great PR program for the French. It was, I believe financed by their government but was also a very successful program. But as I said at the time, and seemingly Phil agrees, the main reason for the success was the ultra-strong U.S. dollar. Nonetheless those were tough days for California wine. Naturally, as usual, there were those who predicted the most awful future for our industry, because they assumed that the dollar would continue to be strong and even gain in strength. Never predict next year’s rainfall based upon this year’s weather.

Russ Woodbury goes to Coastal Wines. Last time I saw Russ–ole buddy from Guild–he was on crutches from a broken ankle.

Foremost-McKesson is still in the business, giving a second $1,000 award to an outstanding vineyardist. Boy, they surely exited the industry fast.

Delicato expands its visitors’ center. I remember when it was Sam-Jaspar and remember both Sam and Jaspar! Great growth.

Louis Martini adding 1,500 acres of vineyard.

Boeger Winery celebrates its 10 anniversary. A “shirt-tail” cousin, he (Greg, that is).

Good ole Balzer establishes a scholarship at U.C.-Davis. Hope Bob is doing well, he no doubt did more for the industry than any other writer I know.

Jim Seff leaves W.I. for Buchman, Buchman & O’Brien. Now there’s an outfit that goes back a long ways–almost as long as my dad in NYC.

Jack Welsch, ex-Fromm and Sichel, Inc. heads the International Federation of Wines, Spirits, Brandy and Liqueur Industry; the first American to do so.

Elie Skofis, retired V.P. of Guild and ex of Roma and Italian Swiss receives the Guymon Award for his knowledge of brandy distillation, (and I might add, for his work on vodka from grapes)

Big report on the 3d Annual Napa Valley Wine Symposium; and deservedly so.

Pat Gibbs retires from W.I. and Werner Allmendinger does the same whilst Fred Franzia is honored as its Past Chairman.

CRYSTAL GAZING: The future, to me, still seems moderately rosy. The long reach of John DeLuca seems to have been able to pick another big ripe plum for the industry–that is, the statement of President Clinton no less, on TV yet, “–at least if you use it |ethanol~ in moderation there’s no evidence that it causes harm. And there is some evidence that wine, for example, is good for your heart, if you use it in moderation.”

How about those apples?

This on the heels of what I consider one of the great and very underpublicized victories for the industry:–that is the decision by Judge Haller to dismiss all of the “lead in wine” cases. What a mess this could have been.

These, in my opinion, are both significant events for us, the results of which will be felt for many years. And I thought that this administration was somewhat neo-prohibitionist.

Thus, if we can escape another increase in excise taxes, we could be–dare I say it–the beverage of choice in this administration. Of course, this is in line with the old Democratic Party stance–a wet plank in every platform but it usually meant a bit more favorable stance for beer and surely not wine, and it did not include the Southern Demos, as evidenced by James “Jimmy”–Two Martini–Carter.

And now, if the country has a satisfactory financial recovery, we may see a pleasant year.

All of this plus the “socko” Safer “French Paradox” together with the Harvard Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and we have a fistful of solid data to throw at the neo-prohibitionists. Not the platitudes that “port builds blood” and “wine has lots of vitamins”.

“Chief of all needs for human life are water and fire, iron and salt, the heart of the wheat, milk and honey, the blood |i.e. wine~ of the grape, and oil and cloth.”

COPYRIGHT 1993 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group